Last week, I posted about the great new book, Thanks for the Feedback. This week, one of the authors, Sheila Heen, tells me what she thinks about calling girls bossy. Is it bad? Is Sheryl Sandberg onto something with her Ban Bossy campaign? And by the way, how do we handle all the unwanted mom-to-mom advice that often feels so judgmental?
Check out the awesome advice Heen has below:
KK: What do you think about the Ban Bossy campaign? How bad is bossy? SH: Being called “bossy” as a little girl is like most feedback we get as adults–mixed. It undermines the value of the skills it takes to speak up or provide leadership in a group.
But the feedback that we’re being bossy also contains information about how we are impacting those around us that sometimes we should learn from. Maybe someone feels unheard or dismissed or steamrolled. That is important for leaders to understand.
So when my daughter is called bossy (as I was), I want her to hold onto the initiative and being willing to try, and I want her to learn that real leadership is marrying that with empathy and engaging others.
KK: Women are often giving each other advice about babies, parenting and everything else. Why does this hit so close to home? SH: It’s easy to hear well-intended coaching (“have you tried a wheat-free diet?”) as judgment that you’re doing it all wrong. Particularly when we’re first-time parents, or trying to figure out our second child, our own anxiety about being the perfect parent and not ruining our kids forever can amplify our sense of accusation, even when the mom offering the tip is well-intended.
KK: Why is it often so judgmental?
SH: Because it often is. Every parent is doing some things well (our kids eat healthy and already know their ABCs) and others less so (Noah nap? Never. Yes, he’s a basket case.) These reflect our own values and upbringing, as well as our kids’ challenges and temperaments. In your house, discipline and table manners get instilled early, while next door table manners are nonexistent but potty training is completed before age two. So when we offer neighbor mom “suggestions” for teaching table manners, we are trying to be helpful, but we’re also not-so-secretly wondering why the heck she hasn’t taken care of this before middle school.
KK: What helps?
SH: Remember that you are in charge of how you hear mom-to-mom advice, and work to extract the judgment and hear the coaching as simply coaching. It’s advice, and it’s your job to decide what’s might work for your kids and your family. The fact that the neighbors do it differently doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. And even when the advice is 90 percent wrong – would never work for your son – that last 10 percent can sometimes be of value, sparking an idea that does work, and the payoff is worth it when you finally toss the last pull-up.
Feedback. It’s everywhere–from bosses, friends, teachers, husband and even our kids and Facebook. How do you take it? It’s a double-edged sword. We all want to improve our skills, but we also want to be liked and accepted.
This unique book addresses how to accept feedback gracefully whether your boss is giving you a review, your kids are commenting on their meatloaf dinner or your mother-in-law is offering snide commentary on your parenting style. Criticisms are among the most difficult conversations to have–but the new book, Thanks for the Feedback,aims to make it a little easier.
Now listen, sometimes the feedback you get is just plain crap. Sometimes it’s callous or wrong. But sometimes it’s right. What do you say or think or do in response? The authors of Thanks for the Feedback try to give you a guide to make friends with your mistakes. They want you to know the difference between when you should let it roll off your back and when you should take it seriously and try to improve.
The authors, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project hit it out of the park with well-researched insight, advice and tips. I asked them some questions below–they explain what feedback is 3 Quick Ways to Take Feedback Better.
KK: What do you mean by feedback?
DS and SH: We mean it both narrowly and broadly. Feedback is that performance evaluation or those test results, but in a bigger sense, this is a book about how to learn about ourselves from people and experiences – how to learn from life.
Feedback can be direct (“you missed your sales targets”) or indirect (when your boss said “good work, team,” she looked at your two colleagues, but not at you). And we’re constantly getting feedback in our personal lives as well – that comment from your mother-in-law about your permissive parenting, the way your spouse left this morning without saying the usual, “Love you.” It can be from your boss or your boyfriend, your neighbor or your niece, even from your suddenly-too-tight jeans. We get feedback from everywhere, and not only from the outside. Let’s not forget the ways we beat ourselves up – the feedback we get from ourselves can be some of the hardest to take.
KK: What are 3 Quick Ways to Take Feedback Better? DS and SH: Great question. The research shows that people who seek out feedback – especially negative feedback that they can learn from – are perceived to be more competent, settle into new roles more quickly, and get higher performance reviews. So here are three tips that will help.
1. Don’t ask: “Do you have any feedback for me?” Too broad. Too daunting. Instead ask: “What’s one thing you see me doing – or failing to do – that’s getting in my own way?” That lets people know you actually want the feedback, and gives them permission to be honest.
2. Don’t just tap people you like and who like you – they can’t help you with your edges because they don’t see your edges. You live or work well and easily together. It’s the people we struggle to get along with who are often in a position to offer us something valuable about ourselves. They see our edges because they are so wonderfully adept at provoking them. Asking them about one thing you’re doing that’s getting in the way will not only elicit valuable insight into what you can do to reduce the friction, it will also be a bold step toward improving that relationship.
3. When you’re really struggling with feedback that seems fundamentally “off,” divide a sheet of paper into two columns and make two lists. On the left, list all the things that are wrong with the feedback. What they are saying isn’t true, it’s unfair, they’re one to talk, when they gave it was inappropriate, how they gave it was pathetically unskilled, why they gave it is suspect. Now on the right make a list of things that might be right about the feedback. Too often we use all that is wrong with the feedback we get to cancel out the possibility that there is anything right about it. Your feedback might be 99 percent wrong, but that 1 percent that’s right might be just the insight you need. And once you get good at listening for what’s right, not just what’s wrong, you’ll do that in your conversations themselves more easily – getting curious about what they mean that might be helpful. That’s when you can really accelerate your own learning and improve your relationships. (more…)
When I’m not writing this blog, I teach yoga classes. A woman fell out of her half-moon pose the other day and said, “Falling is very, very bad!” I said, “Falling is excellent! How else will you learn half-moon if you don’t fall 50 times? That’s exactly how all of us learned to get balanced and get strong.” She was so devastated to fail, but why? Failing is the key to success.
KK: My kids get trophies just for playing soccer or participating in gymnastics class. Is giving out rewards like this good for our kids? How can it hurt them? What should our schools—and we as parents—be doing differently to prepare our kids for life? MM: Failure doesn’t feel good. We probably all remember how bad it felt to be the kid who got picked last for the team or tried as hard as we could to win a prize but still fell short. It’s natural that we should want to shield our kids from that bad feeling by setting up games where “everybody wins.” But one of the most important lessons we learn in life is how to pick ourselves up after we try something—and flop. From babies learning to walk, to scientists figuring out how to split an atom, learning is a process of trial and error. A whole lot of error. The greatest successes are people who have failed again and again, learning along the way what doesn’t work . . . and from that, what does. When we shield our kids from failure, we’re teaching them that failure isn’t just unpleasant, but unimaginably horrible. They are sometimes completely derailed. Learning to cope with failure is one of the most important things anyone can teach. Kids who never confront failure won’t be equipped to dodge the curveballs that life inevitably sends you way, and will flounder once they hit the workforce.
KK: In what ways does the United States view failure and risk taking differently than other countries? Why is it easy to get rich in America and hard in Zimbabwe (or France)?
MM: America is a nation founded on failure. Why did our ancestors come here? By and large, because things weren’t working out back home. That heritage can be seen in our attitude towards failure. We admire people who don’t succeed at first but try, try again. We have higher rates of entrepreneurship, and we are more forgiving toward people who have tried to start a business and failed. We’re also more forgiving of people who have failed in other ways—our bankruptcy laws are the most generous in the world. When you make it easy for people to take risks, you also make it easy to get ahead. The more forgiving your culture is towards failure, the more welcoming it is of success.
KK: Which is better, frequent small failures or an occasional big failure? How can we encourage our kids to fail? MM: “Fail fast to succeed soon.” That’s the motto of a lot of startups, for good reason. Small failures are easy to recover from. Big failures that build for a long time are much more likely to be catastrophic. Businesses, governments and parents should encourage people to fail early and often—but also to recognize their failures and cut their losses quickly.
KK: Why is consistency so key to changing bad habits, from toddler tantrums to self-destructive behavior?
MM: I said earlier that people are obsessive pattern-makers. We learn how to behave by observing what happens when we do certain things. If we like what happens, we do it again, and if we don’t, we try to avoid whatever we did to trigger it. That means that if you want to teach a kid—or an adult—how to behave, you need to have absolutely consistent rules. That allows them to successfully predict what results their behavior will produce. Small punishments that are doled out for every single transgression are much more likely to produce behavior change than larger punishments that are delivered inconsistently—and the same is true of rewards. So if you want to raise well-behaved kids, or help adult prisoners rehabilitate themselves, the most important thing you can do is focus on making sure that the same behavior gets punished or rewarded the same way every single time.
Need some inspiration to get back up, try again, and smile? Check out this video, Epic Animal Fails.
Get your family’s health on track in just 12 short weeks with our easy plan.
We love Elisa Zied, a registered dietician who is on the Parents Advisory Board. She also writes our blog called The Scoop on Food. So my editors and I were happy to hear about her new book, Younger Next Week. I couldn’t put it down yesterday. Elisa gives straightforward info about how many calories and how much fat most women need per day whether weight loss or maintaining their weight is a goal. For slow and steady weight loss of no more than 1 to 2 pounds weekly, she recommends 1600 calories (way better than 1200, right?) and 36 to 62 grams of fat. She also explains how to increase portions if you need more or if weight maintenance is the goal. She talks about healthy starches–we need them! And, of course, whole grains get big gold stars.
I especially love the recipes hidden in the back of the book. I’ve posted a delicious Brussels sprouts variation at the end of this helpful, insightful Q&A with Elisa about why you need this book.
KK: What do you hope is the biggest takeaway from your book? EZ: I wrote this book to be a wake-up call and permission slip for women to prioritize caring for themselves so that they can look and feel their best inside and out. I hope that after reading Younger Next Week, women feel empowered to tweak their eating, fitness and lifestyle habits each day to live their best life. I want women to know that they don’t need to move mountains to look and feel their best, achieve a healthier weight, and age well…but they do need to put themselves on their extensive to do list. I also want women to know that simply moving toward a more nutritious and healthful diet, incorporating a little more movement (and less sitting) into each day and connecting with others (not just online but in person) can do wonders for their appearance, mood and health. Women also need to know that self care isn’t selfish–everyone around them will reap the benefits of them taking better care of themselves.
KK: Why do women need this information?
EZ: We women tend to want to be all things to all people. And because many of us are in the business of caring for and nurturing everyone around us–husbands or partners, children, aging parents, friends and family members, neighbors–we often put our own physical and mental needs on the back burner. But doing so leaves us vulnerable to stress and puts us at risk for getting sick or developing diet- and lifestyle-related chronic diseases. And it certainly doesn’t help us stay centered or well-equipped to handle stressors like deaths, divorces, disabilities, work or financial pressures or losses or even just everyday stress that goes along with raising a family or simply living life. Women need Younger Next Week because it provides the impetus, the motivation and practical tools and tips based on science to help women not just talk the talk but walk the walk to achieve or reclaim the vitality that they so deserve.
KK: What are three of your favorite recipes? The black bean tartines sound amazing!
EZ: I simply adore brussels sprouts so am partial to the Shredded Brussels Sprouts on page 234. I also love the Shrimp and Broccoli Bowl (minus the red pepper flakes–those kill me) on page 225 for a hearty meal. For a snack/dessert, I love the Chocolate Walnut Granola Bars on page 237–they’re sweet and satisfying.
1 pound (5 cups) fresh small Brussels sprouts
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper or minced garlic to taste
1. Trim the hard ends off the Brussels sprouts. Remove any outer leaves that have yellowed or withered. Cut each Brussels sprout in half and then slice the halves into thin strips. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they have softened. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss, using tongs, to coat them with the onions. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts have browned.
3. Spring the sprouts with the lemon juice and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper if desired.
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Today’s the big day for writer genius Jennifer Senior. Her big release, All Joy and No Funhits shelves. She tackles some big parenting ideas–issues that we all have but never speak of. For example, why does happiness decline so much once we have children according to vast amounts of scientific research? What’s up with over-scheduling our kids when all of that running around makes us miserable?
Her article in New York Magazine, where she is on staff, first stirred up the topic. The book goes into detail after fascinating detail about how our kids change our lives completely. She studies real families all across America to explains why this phenomenon happens and tells us what to do about it.
The point of this tome seems to call to parents, “Hey you, it’s hard. And you are not alone!” Oh boy, just read the part about teenagers. Hint: Adolescence is harder for parents than it is for kids.
I asked Jennifer exactly what her goals are with this book and which topics she thinks push the most buttons. Get a great feel for All Joy and No Fun by reading the Q&A below.
KK: How did you get the idea to write about such a controversial topic?
JS: Okay. This is the part where I quite possibly reveal myself to be completely delusional when I say: I didn’t – and still don’t! – consider this topic controversial. I mean, what’s controversial about examining the ways that kids affect their parents? All of us are profoundly influenced by our kids. It’d be nuts to think that our kids are born and we remain the same.
As for how I got here: In 2010, I wrote a story for New York Magazine that tried to figure out why so many studies – across such a wide variety of academic disciplines – said that children don’t improve their parents’ happiness. I read about this finding in 2006, before I had a kid, and it struck me as bonkers, because all I wanted at the time was a kid. After I had said kid, my understanding became more nuanced, but this research still struck me as both totally right and dead wrong. I wanted to delve deeper into it, and I did. I suppose the magazine story was characterized as “controversial” at the time, but again, I never saw it that way, and I think those who made it to the end of my story didn’t either. (I mean, what parent doesn’t find the experience a mixed bag? Especially now, when there are no norms about anything?) But there was only so much one could say about that subject. What really interested me, in the end, was the broader question of how children shape their parents lives. I was, and remain, genuinely shocked that there aren’t several zillion books devoted to this topic.
KK: How do you think your research can help readers–moms of young kids in particular?
JS: What I’m really hoping is that my research will help people say: Whoa, so I’m not alone? It’s a sense of identification, really, that I’m hoping to provide.There’s no normed knowledge out there about our parenting experience. We’re all improvising, all doing it in our separate silos, all wondering whether our feelings are typical, without realizing that there’s actually tons of research out there that tells us what we’re feeling and experiencing is typical—the research is just scattered in all sorts of different places. So, for instance, in my chapter about how children affect your marriage, I’m really hoping that some woman will be sitting in bed somewhere, reading the book, and she’ll suddenly elbow her husband: You see! I told you there was a reason I was feeling this way!I don’t care that you do the yard work and shovel the driveway! I’d much rather you took the kids off my hands for a couple of hours. It says right here that most American women find child care more stressful than the chores you do.
KK: What is the main message you’d like to convey about modern parenting?
JS: That it’s precisely that: Modern. People think they’re supposed to know what they’re doing, when in fact “parenting,” as we know it, is only 70 or so years old. Before World War II, kids worked on behalf of the family’s welfare. Now, kids don’t work, and parents work twice as hard to support them. They treat their children a future investments. But the future, by definition, is unknowable, which means we are all working entirely without a script. Normlessness creates a lot of tension. We’re not sure what we’re raising our kids for, and we’re certainly not sure how to negotiate this new task within the setting of a modern marriage, with both parents working, which is now the norm.
KK: Have you made any personal parenting changes since writing and researching All Joy and No Fun? Which one(s)?
JS: Somewhere along the way in my research, I came across a piece of data I never used in my book but saw played out repeatedly in kitchens across the United States. It’s this: Parents who are good at self-regulation may not themselves be happier, but their children are happier. So I do try, mightily, to keep my temper at bay, even though I often fail.
And there’s one bit of research that is in this book that I seriously take to heart. It says that if parents hash out their divisions of labor before their first child is born — not just in broad terms, but with hyper-specificity —there’s much less conflict between them. Now, my husband and I weren’t organized enough to do that before our son was born. But I’ve discovered that I can still use this technique. Specifically: If the weekend is ahead of us, and I know I have three tasks looming — things I must must must do — I now warn my husband ahead of time and tell him what I need. And vice versa. We negotiate in advance who needs what time to do whatever. And you’d be amazed how much tension that eliminates. Before coming across that research, I had a much more passive approach: The weekend would come along, I’d tell him there was something I needed to accomplish, and he’d get very tense, like I’d sprung it on him. Now, he’s really relaxed about stepping in, because he’s been forewarned. And vice versa.
KK: Do you have any advice for moms who are struggling with the issues you raise such as constant guilt and all of this concerted cultivation?
JS: Yes! Don’t go bananas. Give yourselves a break, and give your kids a break. n terms of guilt: Remember, national time-use surveys say you spend more time with your children than your mothers spent with you (or women did in the 1960s, for that matter, when most weren’t in the workforce). And in terms of anxieties about concerted cultivation: We may have all sorts of notions about what will put our children in good future standing, but I’d like to point out: When I was in high school, it was considered essential that we all learn Japanese. That didn’t turn out to be the case. One can’t predict the future. We have no idea what our kids’ jobs will look like. Their jobs probably haven’t even been invented yet. Can you imagine Larry Page and Sergey Brin as children, looking at their parents and saying, “One day, I’m going to make all the information in the world searchable. And I will call my company Google.” Their parents would have rolled their eyes.